It was the Rapids after they can’t prove the difference in the classical rounds. Hikaru came out with a 2-0 score over the Armenian showing his strength in quick time control.
The first game was a little bit out of order as both players played sloppy moves. Levon Aronian went for a pawn sacrifice, which Hikaru accepted, to gain an advantage. He was somewhat successful in attaining that elusive advantage but they both misplayed the rook endgame.
It was anybody’s game but the final blunder came from Levon that gave Hikaru the chance to seal the deal in style. Levon was under huge pressure now after being down 1-0 and in a must-win situation.
The second game was clearly a desperate attempt from the Armenian to win. Hikaru though was on his toes answering every question asked. A double-rook endgame was a draw in any other circumstances, however, Aronian needing a win extended the game for a failed attempt.
Hikaru Nakamura: “I am actually proud of the fact that I have not lost a rapid or blitz game for a very, very long time. I think my last loss was probably to Alireza in 2019. Like I said before, mainly, you just try to find good moves. I think the main difference is that I didn’t really feel any pressure. Even today, I was just playing. And I could definitely tell, for Levon, that he was more nervous than I was… In general, I think I played well, and it showed.”
“Playing every day keeps you sharper. The question is whether you can play the openings reasonably well or not; that’s the sacrifice you make when you play. But, practically speaking, I’ve played more than anybody in the last couple of years, and I think it definitely helped.”
Hikaru on winning the tournament: “It is nice to win, obviously. I think I had a little bit of luck—I got the best possible group that I could have asked for at the start, which definitely helped. I thought I played well. Not to jinx myself, but I haven’t lost a game forever! So, I am pretty happy. But this is only one tournament. Let us see how the second and third legs go.”
Levon Aronian: “Hikaru’s openings were never his strong point. He got himself into bad positions quite often, but he always fights. I admire that. He is defending pretty well, as the first game showed. I need to work on my technique to play better in better positions.”